28 reasons why you should visit St. Gallen
London, Paris, New York, Toronto, Buenos Aires... The list of cities built on water can go on and on.
Most Swiss cities were also built according to this principle and are located in the immediate vicinity of a body of water. Be it Lucerne on Lake Lucerne, Basel on the Rhine, Bern on the Aare or Geneva on Lake Geneva.
But as is well known, there is no rule without exception. And exactly such an exception is the subject of this article, which is dedicated to a city in the east of Switzerland that is often overlooked but no less worth seeing.
St. Gallen is located about 70 km east of Zurich and is the eighth largest city in Switzerland with about 75,000 inhabitants. It is known, among other things, for the University of St. Gallen (HSG), its rich history in the textile industry and for the UNESCO-listed Abbey District around the baroque cathedral.
In addition, St. Gallen is perfectly situated between Lake Constance and the Alpstein mountains for active day trips and also has numerous corners worth seeing within the former city walls. There are more than enough reasons to pay this city a visit.
The Abbey District
The landmark of the city of St. Gallen is undoubtedly found in the Abbey District, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. In this district belongs in the first place the dominant baroque cathedral, which was built in the middle of the 18th century and can be visited free of charge throughout the year.
With its two imposing towers and magnificently decorated interior, it is more than worth a visit.
Also part of the Abbey District is the Abbey Library. It is home to about 170,000 books, some of which are well over 1,000 years old. But not only old books can be viewed in this enchanting hall. A mummy that is over 2,700 years old has also found its way into the library and finds its final peace here between the shelves.
Her name is "Schepenese" and you will find out how she got from Egypt to St. Gallen during your visit to the museum. Detailed information on the Abbey District are interesting for this important area of the city of St. Gall, should you wish to explore it beyond the obligatory photo of the cathedral.
The Laurence Church
When it comes to colorful interior design, no other church in St. Gallen can hold a candle to the Laurenzenkirche. The walls are decorated in all imaginable colors and even the roof, which you can admire best in combination with a tower climb, consists of a colorful mosaic.
Outside the winter months, the Laurenzenkirche can be climbed twice a day - at 10:00 and at 15:00. The 186 steps are quite strenuous, but you will be rewarded with a wonderful view over the Stiftsbezirk and the city of St. Gallen.
The Gallus Square
Hardly any other square in the city of St. Gallen is as inviting and charming as Gallusplatz. Since 2012, it has shone in new splendor and, thanks to the redesign with benches and trees, invites you to linger. It is the perfect place to pause for a moment, watch the people passing by from the rondelle, enjoy a delicious ice cream from the nearby Chocolaterie Kölbener and watch the colorful hustle and bustle of the city.
The cathedral and the Abbey Library are immediately adjacent to Gallusplatz. So you have no excuse to skip this place during your visit 🙂
The Three Wiers
Although St. Gallen is not located at a well-known body of water, the city does not have to completely do without the cool wet. The extremely popular recreation area "Drei Weieren", directly above the old town, offers various possibilities to linger, swim, walk, play soccer, read, picnic or just enjoy the view.
The Drei Weieren, which actually consist of five ponds, were originally built as a water reservoir for the textile industry in the 17th century. But they were also intended to supply the fire brigade with sufficient water in the event of a city fire.
Swimming is only allowed in two of the five ponds - Mannenweier and Frauenweier. The Mannenweier is free and open to the public, while the Frauenweier is an open-air swimming pool with an extended infrastructure, for which a fee is charged.
Whether you're looking for a wet cool-down, or just a beautiful view over the city of St. Gallen and Lake Constance as far as Germany, a stop at the Drei Weieren is a must in any case.
Swiss Activities Tip No. 1: The Drei Weieren can be perfectly combined in an approx. one-hour walk from the abbey district to the Notkersegg monastery. On the way, two farms await you, selling fresh produce directly from the farm. The assortment includes cheese, fresh milk from the vending machine, eggs, apple juice, meat, fresh berries depending on the season and much more.
Swiss Activities Tip No. 2: When the weather is nice in summer, the Bäderbus runs free of charge between the city of St. Gallen and the Drei Weieren. It is best to wait for the bus at the train station or at the bus stop Marktplatz.
The Mülenen Gorge
The Mülenen Gorge is considered the birthplace of the city of St. Gallen. According to legend, the Irish wandering monk Gallus fell into a thorn bush at the foot of the gorge. He interpreted this incident as a sign from God to stay in this place and so the city was born in this valley along the river Sitter.
The Mülenen Gorge leads just behind the Abbey district up to the St. Georgen district, where the Drei Weieren are also located. On foot you need about 10 to 15 minutes to reach the top of the gorge. On the way, various information boards await you, which explain the history of this place in more detail.
In addition, one of the paths leads over a bridge in front of the town's own waterfall, which, depending on the rainfall of the past few days, can be a considerable force of nature.
Swiss Activities Tip: In spring, the hillside next to the waterfall is overgrown with tons of wild garlic. If you want to spice up your cooking a bit this time of year, help yourself unabashedly here. But be careful: Wild garlic is not to be confused with the poisonous lily of the valley, which looks deceptively similar. Make sure you know how to tell the two apart via this article on confusing wild garlic.
Of course there is a convenient alternative to overcome the almost 70 meters in altitude between Mühlegg and St. Georgen.
The Mühleggbahn was built in 1893 as a water weight railroad. The city of St. Gallen converted it to a rack railroad in 1950 and to a funicular in 1975. The railroad runs regularly on demand between the Mühlegg and St. Georgen and is integrated in the zonal tariff of the city of St. Gallen.
The ride takes a little more than a minute and leads through a tunnel, which means that the view of the Mülenen Gorge is very limited. However, if the steep path or the many steps to St. Georgen scare you off, the Mühleggbahn is just the thing for you.
Reason 7: The stair training
Speaking of stairs..
Since St. Gallen is located in a valley and it is partly steep up the slope in the north and south, the city is equipped with plenty of stairs. And by plenty, I really mean plenty.
According to the website "Stägestadt", there are about 13,000 stairs. More than enough to give your thighs a little workout
A clear advantage of the many stairs is the direct access to the higher quarters. Within a short time you gain height and get a good overview of the city. Should you ever get lost, you will soon find your bearings again thanks to the many stairs
Most of the stairs are open to the public, even if it may not always look like it. However, if you should catch a private staircase, you will notice it at the latest when you are standing in front of a building entrance and can't get any further
The Game Park Peter & Paul
In the northeastern part of the city of St. Gallen is the Wildpark Peter & Paul. A walk through the world of fallow deer, wild boars, ibex, chamois, marmots and many other animals is free of charge and is perfect if you want to get an idea of the Swiss fauna.
By the way, the view over the city of St. Gallen and into the Alpstein mountains is not to be sneezed at from the game park either.
The most direct way to the Peter & Paul is by bus number 5 in the direction of "Rotmonten" or by bus number 9 in the direction of "Schuppis Nord". After the bus stop "St. Gallen, Sonne" you only have to follow the signs with the label "Wildpark".
Swiss Activities Tip: The Wildpark Peter & Paul is part of a local recreation area, through which countless hiking trails lead. From here, you can continue in any direction should you have the urge for a longer hike after walking through the wildlife park. One of my favorites is the trail to Wittenbach, which eventually continues to Lake Constance. For a detailed overview of your options, check out the interactive map from Schweizmobil.
The proximity to nature
Another advantage of St. Gallen's exceptional location is that the comparatively narrow but long city has large points of contact with nature on two edges. As already mentioned in connection with the stairs, the city lies to the north and south on a slope and then merges into extensive natural landscapes.
So it is irrelevant where in the city of St. Gallen you are. You are hardly more than 10 minutes away from a walk in the fresh green.
And I don't just mean classics like the Drei Weieren or the Wildpark Peter & Paul. The Berneggwald forest above St. Georgen, which with its many squirrels, deer and wood mice is one of my favorite destinations after work, is only a short but steep walk from the city center.
Swiss Activities Tip: If you're looking for a walk in nature but don't know where to go, just march. Follow the first staircase you find and be surprised where it takes you. By the time you reach the top, you'll have a beautiful view over the city and have found your bearings again. To avoid getting lost, you can look for the cathedral as a reference point.
The bridge way
A somewhat larger walk right on the outskirts of the city of St. Gallen deserves a separate mention here.
The course of the river Sitter, which flows around the city from west to north, is almost littered with bridges and viaducts. That's why the bridge trail was created and signposted, which takes you past 18 viaducts, wooden and concrete bridges, and wooden footbridges. You cross some of them, others you see from a distance or you pass under them. For example, the Sitter Viaduct, the highest railroad bridge in Switzerland.
The hike Bridge Trail St Gallen takes about 2 hours and starts at the Haggen-Schlössli above the Sitter.
On the way you will pass several picnic areas and have the possibility to take a refreshing bath in the river Sitter. If you have enough time, plan half a day for this excursion and don't forget your swimming trunks and food.
The botanical garden
Botanists and plant fans will get their money's worth at the botanical garden of the city of St. Gallen. It displays over 8000 labeled plants from all over the world, which can be explored either on an individual visit or as part of a public or private guided tour.
Bus number 1 in the direction of Stephanshorn will take you to the "Naturmuseum" stop, which is the closest stop to the botanical garden, which is open to the public free of charge.
The rich textile history
Did you know that St. Gallen has an impressive and long textile history to tell? The region was once one of the world's most important and largest manufacturing and exporting areas of embroidery products. To this day, St. Gallen remains a central player in the textile industry. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama wear products made by textile companies from eastern Switzerland.
Varied and interesting exhibitions on the subject of St. Gallen textiles are offered by the Textile Museum on Vadianstrasse. It covers a variety of topics such as the costumes of the legendary Swiss circus family Knie or the interplay between clothing, power and women in politics. In addition, the museum exhibits selected fabric samples from its rich treasure of over 56,000 objects.
As befits a textile museum, after paying for admission - which is free with the Swiss Museum Pass and CHF 12 otherwise - you receive a piece of fabric as a ticket.
However, St. Gallen's textile history is not limited to the museum. If the topic really fascinates you, you have the opportunity to visit central places within the framework of the Textile Trail and truly immerse yourself in the world of fine fabrics.
Swiss Activities Tip: In several outlets you can buy the finest fabrics at attractive prices, should that fit into your pattern. To name a few examples, there is the Stoffladen Walser, the Fabrikladen Bischoff or the Jakob Schläpfer warehouse outlet.
The museums landscape
Apart from the botanical garden and the textile museum, the city of St. Gallen has various other museums to offer for every taste. Among the best known are certainly the Museum of Nature, the Abbey Library, the Museum of Culture and Ethnology or the Museum of Art. All these candidates and more can be found in this compilation of museums.
The entrance fee is in most cases 12.- CHF for adults. However, if you have a Swiss museum pass, all these places are free for you.
The bay windows
After Schaffhausen, St. Gallen is the city with the second highest number of oriels. 111 ornate oriels adorn the buildings of the city center. They are equipped with all kinds of ornaments, which demonstrate power and influence.
So it's worthwhile, while strolling through St. Gallen, to let your eyes wander upwards every now and then and see what kind of curiosity is hanging over your head at the moment.
For those really interested in oriels, there is a specially created city tour of magnificent oriels in St. Gallen on the subject. Which leads us seamlessly to the next reason to visit St. Gallen.
The numerous fountains
Even if St. Gallen cannot boast a Trevi fountain like Rome, there are still some impressive fountains decorated with artistic sculptures scattered throughout the city. There are over 100 of them that characterize the cityscape of St. Gallen.
One of the most famous is undoubtedly the Broderbrunnen, which belongs to the Swiss inventory of cultural assets of national importance. You will come across it when you are traveling between the train station and the center of the old town and cross the street to Multergasse after the Red Square.
But you also can't miss the juggler in front of the art museum or the Gallus fountain on Gallusplatz.
If you keep an eye out during your visit to St. Gallen, you will discover a wide variety of fountains in sometimes unexpected places. Even if you are not looking for a way to fill up your water bottle.
Swiss Activities Tip: In Switzerland, you can fill up your water bottle at almost every public fountain. So there is no need to constantly buy water at the supermarket.
The thematic city tours
Guided tours exist in every city. They are a wonderful way to dive into the history of a place, learn more about the historical background and ask questions right away. But hold on now. In St. Gallen you have the choice between 38 (!!!) different city tours.
Quite a lot for a city with just under 80,000 inhabitants.
An overview of all guided tours can be found at Guided tours in St. Gallen. The thematic tours, which focus on a certain topic, always catch the eye on the website. For example, you have the opportunity to go on a voyage of discovery with a maid from the 16th century or to learn more about the medical history of the city of St. Gallen.
Art lovers, treasure hunters and bay window fanatics will also get their money's worth.
With such an immense choice, a guided tour of the city is almost a must.
The Red Square
Yes, St. Gallen has a "Red Square" and no, it is not the same as in Moscow.
The Red Square in St. Gallen is an art project also known as "Stadtlounge". The square was created in collaboration with the artist Pipilotti Rist and the architect Carlos Martinez and is located around the Raiffeisenbank along Schreinerstrasse. By the way, it can be easily recognized at first glance on Google Maps.
The St. Gallen lounge is equipped with sofas, chairs, tables, loungers and even a Porsche, which is especially popular with children for playing. The whole thing is covered with red rubber granules, which is supposed to give you the feeling of a carpet.
Swiss Activities Tip: The square is worth a visit during the daytime on the one hand, but also after dusk. The floating light bodies illuminate the square with their colored light and create a romantic atmosphere.
The festivals & markets
In a world where the corona pandemic is over or hasn't happened yet, many great festivals take place in St. Gallen every year. Be it the famous Open Air St. Gallen in July, the entertaining Buskers Festival in spring or the legendary OLMA (fair for agriculture and food) in autumn.
You can find an overview of the upcoming festivals and markets on the website St Gallen - Messen, Märkte, Festivals of the city of St. Gallen. My personal favorite is the Buskers Festival, where numerous street artists from all over the world present their performances. The city feels like a big open-air circus during this time.
The confusing station clock
Hardly any other art object divides the people of eastern Switzerland as much as the new station clock above the arrivals hall. Proponents admire the flashing work of art, while opponents are upset that they first have to study mathematics to be able to read the time.
The binary station clock is really limited in its suitability for everyday use. If you want to briefly check the time during your sprint to the next train, it really doesn't come to your rescue. Unless you have studied its principle in advance on the specially created website Bahnhofsuhr St Gallen and recognize the time at a glance.
However, if you have enough time and enjoy a little puzzle, be sure to stand in front of the controversial clock for a few minutes and try to figure out what time it is using the binary code.
_Swiss Activities Tip: The best place to start reading the clock is at the top line, which represents the hours. There is the least movement and you have time to get used to the principle before you move on to the minutes or even seconds
The Locomotive Depot
The Lokremise St. Gallen was built over 100 years ago and was originally a depot for the maintenance of steam locomotives. With its 21 locomotive stands and approximately 80 meters in diameter, the Lokremise is the largest circular depot in Switzerland.
However, steam locomotives are no longer maintained here today. Instead, the depot was converted into a cultural center in 2010, which today enjoys great popularity among the people of St. Gallen. It can be rented for events and is a regular venue for theater performances, art exhibitions and even movies.
The stylishly furnished restaurant offers a varied French menu for the upper budget. Various indoor and outdoor seating areas in the immediate vicinity of the St. Gallen main train station invite you to linger.
The St. Gallen Bratwurst
The people of St. Gallen are mighty proud of their Bratwurst in St Gallen. You can enjoy it on almost every corner of the city and especially during the children's festival, which takes place every three years, and during the OLMA, it is consumed in great quantities.
Should you care to live in peace with the people of St. Gallen, however, you must remember one thing. Reaching for the mustard tube or even the ketchup bottle is taboo here. It is considered culinarily backward and even dishonorable. The argument: A St. Gallen bratwurst is so delicious on its own that any addition interferes with its enjoyment.
One can argue about that. However, it is such a strong unwritten law that it is best to stick to it.
The St. Gallen Beaver
Whoever thinks of Biber often has the Appenzeller Biber, known throughout Switzerland, in mind. But not only the Appenzellers, also the St. Galleners have the delicious honey pastry filled with almond paste in their assortment. What the Bratwurst is for the butchers of St. Gallen, the Biber is for the bakers. Both specialties are known far beyond the canton's borders.
The Appenzeller is actually hardly different from the St. Gallen Biber. The differences are not so much between the cantons, but rather between the individual bakeries. Each has its own recipe and each Biber therefore tastes slightly different. But they are all undoubtedly delicious.
While the subjects of the Appenzell beavers are often characterized by cows, alpine processions, traditionally dressed alpine dairymen or the Alpstein mountains, the St. Gallen beaver is enthroned by the monastery or the abbey library.
On your tour through the old town of St. Gallen, you will pass numerous bakeries that present their beavers in their shop windows. Since you can't make a wrong choice, if you have a spontaneous attack of hunger for something sweet, I recommend going to the nearest available bakery to treat yourself to a piece of this St. Gallen specialty.
The restaurant at the city wall
The Zeughaus restaurant not only serves wonderful cordonbleus at a very decent price, it is also located in a special place. The row of houses where the restaurant is located is directly attached to the former city wall. From the front it looks like half a house and when you are inside the building, you notice how long and narrow the restaurant is.
Whether it's for a delicious cordon bleu or a funny photo of the front, walking through Zeughausgasse next to Laurenzenkirche should not be missed during a visit to St. Gallen.
The rich gastronomic landscape
Culinarily, the city of St. Gallen has a lot to offer besides cordon bleus at the Zeughaus and the legendary bratwurst. Whether you're looking for a delicious Swiss Rösti, a Vietnamese Pho, a wood-fired pizza or a chocolatey dessert - you'll find it here.
So as not to overdo this article, I'll limit myself to my 12 favorites for now:
- Café G'Nuss: Family-run and very friendly café with lovingly prepared rolls, desserts and other delicacies
- Chocolaterie Kölbener: Ideal for those with a sweet tooth who want to sweeten their visit to Gallusplatz
- Metzgerei Rietmann: My first port of call for a delicious St. Gallen bratwurst
- Restaurant Zeughaus: Excellent Swiss cuisine with delicious cordonbleus in an idyllic location and with attractive prices
- Restaurant Lansin: Vietnamese restaurant with delicious and inexpensive lunch buffet and extensive dinner menu
- Rice & More: My favorite takeaway for a cheap, simple, delicious and nutritious lunch
- Restaurant La Follia: Italian restaurant in a great location right next to the Laurence Church
- Focacceria: cute place with delicious foccacia variations
- Hans im Glück: Best burgers in town with attractive deals for lunch
- Restaurant Pärkli: Lebanese cuisine at its best with delicious mezze plates
- Restaurant Marktplatz: Varied menu with Swiss classics and other delicacies in a cozy location near the market square
- Lokremise: Stylish restaurant in a former locomotive shed. Ideal for connoisseurs with a larger budget.
The Säntis Park
One can argue whether the Säntispark belongs to St. Gallen or not. The fact is that it is located only 15 min from the city center in Abtwil and is a welcome destination especially for families or in bad weather.
Whether you are looking for a sauna, a relaxing massage, a swim in the Säntispark bathing world, an adrenaline-pumping slide in the water park or a sporting activity in one of the many leisure facilities, you will find it in the Säntispark.
Should you decide to stay longer in Abtwil, there is the Hotel Säntispark, which provides its guests with free admission to the sauna and bathing world.
The excursion possibilities
Not only for an afternoon in the Säntispark, but also for extended day trips, St. Gallen is located in a versatile region. The excursion possibilities are numerous and on the Website of St. Gallen - Bodenseetourismus you will find plenty of inspiration. So if you have enough time and do not want to spend your entire stay in St. Gallen, there are numerous options for versatile discovery tours.
We share some recommendations with you here:
- The Alpstein Mountains in Appenzellerland offer countless hiking trails, stunning landscapes, crystal clear mountain lakes, and overnight accommodations for trips that last anywhere from a few hours to several days.
- You can reach Lake Constance by train in less than 15 min. It is the ideal place for a refreshing swim, a walk along the promenade or an excursion by bike. The most beautiful bathing place from my point of view is the "Hörnlibuck" in Staad.
- The Maestrani chocolate factory in Flawil is not far from St. Gallen and is a land of milk and honey for all chocolate lovers. You can find a detailed description about this trip in this article.
- In Stein, a village in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, you can find the show dairy of Appenzeller cheese. If you are interested in the production of one of the Swiss trademarks, you will love the show dairy. You can also find a detailed description of the Appenzell Show Dairy.
The good accessibility
The dense network of public transportation in Switzerland makes it very easy for visitors as well as locals to explore every corner of the country without private transportation.
Even though St. Gallen is not centrally located from a Swiss perspective, the city is still easily accessible. Three to four trains run hourly to and from Zurich, and the direct as well as scenic Voralpenexpress connects St. Gallen with Lucerne. But there are also reliable train connections in the direction of Chur, Austria and Germany.
So there is no reason to declare the remoteness of St. Gallen as a reason for not visiting. That would require an acute phobia of bay windows or binary station clocks.
The insider tip in eastern Switzerland
Hand on heart.
If you talk to someone who has already been to Switzerland and you ask them about the places they have visited, the following list often comes up: Interlaken, Lucerne, Zermatt and Zurich. Maybe Geneva.
St. Gallen is usually very rarely on this list.
On the one hand, this is a shame, since the city has so much to offer. On the other hand, it offers the chance to visit a city that is not flooded with tourists. Anyone who has ever tried to make their way across the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne after the arrival of ten tour cars in Lucerne knows what I'm talking about.
But also the center of Interlaken or Zermatt loses some of its charm due to the high frequency of visitors.
In St. Gallen you don't have this problem. As an insider tip on the eastern edge of Switzerland, here you can immerse yourself in a city where the locals stay and enjoy their city far away from overwhelming tourist crowds. And if a group from distant lands does arrive, they'll really stand out in the hustle and bustle of the local population.
If you too want to be an exotic, don't miss St. Gallen. The city of Gallen awaits you.